Continuing what he says has been the busiest year of his life, John Wesley Harding has assembled a vocal quartet to perform songs related to his debut novel. Due July 26 via venerable folk label Appleseed Recordings, Love Hall Tryst’s “Songs of Misfortune” brings life to the 19th century-leaning folk English ballads that appear in “Misfortune,” published earlier this year under Harding’s given name, Wesley Stace.
“I’ve always liked the English folk tradition of people just singing their songs without any musical accompaniment,” Harding tells Billboard.com. “But I’d never worked out in 15 years of me liking it how I could possibly make an album that would in any way be worth doing in that way.”
For the disc’s 11 vocal selections, Harding worked with longtime friend Brian Lohmann and veteran singers Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan and recorded in just three days at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, N.Y. “It was one of the great pleasures of my life,” he says.
Two songs — “Do Not Fear the Dark” and “Lord Bateman” — are repeated and fleshed out as electric versions by the Minstrel In The Galleries, a group comprised of Harding, guitarist Kurt Bloch, bassist Jim Sangster and multi-instrumentalist Jed Critter.
Love Hall Tryst is planning a brief U.S. tour in August that will include an elaborate one-time performance at Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival with the Minstrel In The Galleries, a string quartet and extensive readings from “Misfortune.” Harding also hopes that the Tryst will become an ongoing concern that will make further recordings unrelated to the book. “To me in my mind, this is not a one-off project,” he explains. “It’s a pool that we can take a dip in when we want to.”
Published in April by Little, Brown in the United States and in May by Jonathan Cape/Vintage in the United Kingdom, “Misfortune” — excerpts of which can be found at Wesleystace.com — has won favorable reviews for the first-time author.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” Harding says of the reception for the book. “I was very keen for it not to be dismissed because I was a musician doing something different, and that was part of the reason that I put it out under my own name. It’s very satisfying that it comes out and people like it.”
In addition to planning the tour, the soon-to-be-married Harding is also working on an as-yet-untitled second novel. “It’s not set in the distant past like this one was,” he says. “It’s set in a much nearer past.”
The story is of four generations of a show business family in England in the 20th century. “It’s totally different” than the stately manor setting of “Misfortune” Harding says, “but [there are] very many similarities” in that both deal with the themes of “family and secrets and stuff like that.”
And while music will be part of the story, he says, “It’s very unlikely there will be songs like there are in this one that either A) affect the plot; or B) are written by me and could possibly be sung at gigs.”
Harding also expects to return to his singer/songwriter career sometime next year to follow-up last year’s “Adam’s Apple” (DRT) with a new album on a to-be-determined label.